5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage

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A sluggish start to the David Moyes era at Manchester United keeps gaining speed. Another mighty puff of steam was acquired Wednesday as the fabled English club qualified in highest possible style for Champions League knockout stages, with a full match to spare.

United are now unbeaten in 11 consecutive contests across all competitions. Despite last weekend’s meek draw with Cardiff, Moyes’ men have crept to within sniffing distance of the Premier League’s top spot – and now they can focus on closing the gap, Champions League advancement secured thanks to a dominant 5-0 win Wednesday over a humbled Bayer Leverkusen.

Wayne Rooney assisted on Antonio Valencia’s early goal and then provided the stinging free kick that turned into an own goal and a 2-0 lead after just 30 minutes at the BayArena. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Nani provided United’s second half goals in what must surely be the most impressive win yet under Moyes.

It was United’s biggest winning margin yet in a Champions League road contest.

Claiming victory on the road in Champions League is always an achievement. Winning by a five-spot at Bayer Leverkusen is worth an extra pat on the back; Sami Hyypia’s club, currently second in Bundesliga matters, had won its previous eight home matches in Champions League.

Manchester United meanwhile, with Spurs, Everton and Newcastle all ahead in league play before a Dec. 10 Champions League group stage closer against Shakhtar Donetsk, can surely use the relief. Wednesday’s display was as sharp as the score indicates, especially impressive considering Moyes’ team played without Marouane Fellaini (suspended) and Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick (both injured).

The subplot here was Ryan Giggs, who was starting in the world’s top club competition two days before his 40th birthday, a remarkable feat for any high-level athlete, much less one still performing at top-rev for one of the globe’s glamour clubs.

Shinji Kagawa took full advantage of his turn in Moyes’ starting 11, beginning his team’s first strike with a gritty win in midfield. From there it went to birthday boy Giggs and then to Rooney, whose ball across from the left was probably tougher than he made it look. Either way, Valencia was running hard to the far post to give his club a lead after 22 mins.

Kakawa provided so much of the push out of the midfield and the quality linking for the visitors Wednesday. And that link-up play with Rooney allowed the England international to do his thing, too.

Eight minutes later, Rooney was again the provider, this time whipping in a free kick from the left. His curler rocketing toward the far post with a menace, Bayer’s Emir Spahić did his best, but rose only high enough to help Rooney’s ball find the top corner for a 2-0 lead.

Despite the showpiece win, Manchester United could not officially claim the group’s top spot; Shakhtar Donetsk’s win over Real Sociedad means the group title remains in dispute, although United needs just a draw at home on Dec. 10 to finish in first. By claiming first in Group A, the Red Devils can help themselves avoid current champion Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and those bedeviling sides from Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, in the next round.

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.